Monday, July 19, 2010

Stanford in the news (good and bad)

Several Stanford linguistics related items have been popping up here and there, none worthy of a post by itself, but taken as a whole, something weird is happening over there:
  • Stanford linguistics recently posted a search for not one but TWO tenure-track faculty positions. I've always had the impression that linguistics departments at elite universities don't hire all that often and it's quite rare to find two positions simultaneously. Not sure if they just have money to burn or if this is a special situation.
  • Mr. Verb linked to a study with the title BRITISH ACCENT NO LONGER SEXY, STUDY FINDS. The linked to article makes a variety of claims:  1) the research was done  "by the Department of linguistics and the Department of Psychology at Stanford University" (why psychology gets caps but linguistics doesn't is perhaps another question as well), 2) it's called The Comito Study, and 3) either Dr. Linda Masterson or Dr. Lisa  Masterson, or possibly both, are involved. So far, I cannot find any reference to the study anywhere on Stanford's pages (or anywhere in the googlesphere save the original article), nor can I find either Dr. Linda or Dr. Lisa at Stanford (nor can I find any Masterson at all). UPDATE: I'm so used to seeing bad science reporting, I just assumed this was legit. A little follow-up shows this to be the work of the classic bat-boy publication The Weekly World News, a not-too-distant cousin to the Onion. Shame on me, haha. 
  • While searching for Drs Linda and Lisa on Stanford's page, I discovered that Stanford has implemented some kind of algorithm for matching similar sounding names, so the search page asked me if I wanted to "Find last names that sound like my search term." One of the earliest, if not THEE earliest sound matching algorithms was Soundex, patented in 1918 and now freely available in a variety of implementations (since the patent has expired). However, there are far superior algorithms involving various minimum edit distance and bag o' sound phonological comparisons (I spent a brief time at IBM with a group working on this). I don't know how they've implemented their search, but it's a nifty tool to include in a search engine, imho.

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